The 1950 Southern Five-Hundred was considered to be the inaugural Southern Five-Hundred (shortened in 1951 to Southern 500) of the NASCAR Grand National event that took place September 4, 1950, at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. It was responsible for turning the Southern 500 into the biggest racing event prior to the 1959 Daytona 500. While this edition of the Southern 500 would be hosted in association with the Central States Racing Association, all of the other Southern 500 races would be hosted exclusively by NASCAR.
Only manual transmission vehicles were allowed to participate in this race; a policy that NASCAR has retained to the present day.
Darlington Raceway, nicknamed by many NASCAR fans and drivers as "The Lady in Black" or "The Track Too Tough to Tame" and advertised as a "NASCAR Tradition", is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is of a unique, somewhat egg-shaped design, an oval with the ends of very different configurations, a condition which supposedly arose from the proximity of one end of the track to a minnow pond the owner refused to relocate. This situation makes it very challenging for the crews to set up their cars' handling in a way that will be effective at both ends.
The track, at the time, was a four-turn 1.25 miles (2.01 km) oval. The track's first two turns are banked at twenty-five degrees, while the final two turns are banked two degrees lower at twenty-three degrees. The front stretch (the location of the finish line) and the back stretch is banked at six degrees.
This racing event helped to modernize stock car racing from its roots as a recreational pastime for moonshiners to an organized sport done on asphalt race tracks superior to the American highway system. Gasoline cost 18 cents a gallon (equivalent to 4.5 cents per litre) to drive an unmodified vehicle to the race; but was free of charge during the race. The same gasoline that was sold in American service stations were used in NASCAR during this era. Cars were driven directly to the track as opposed to being towed from more than 2,500 miles or 4,000 kilometres away. While hotels and modern infrastructure were scarce in the Southern United States during the 1950s, people who attended this early NASCAR event started to create makeshift camping areas around the race track to soak up the full NASCAR experience.
The Interstate Highway System would not begun construction until later in the decade; its heyday and prominence as an "American superhighway" for leisure and business travel didn't kick in until the late 1960s when NASCAR first felt the need to expand outside its regional "shell" and into the national stage. Until hotel accommodations reached the same level of accessibility in the Southern United States as it was in the more economically developed northeastern part of the country, camping with tents and trailers was the only viable way for a NASCAR fan to have a race-oriented vacation. It was also the first 500-mile race in the history of NASCAR. Being the first superspeedway in NASCAR, Darlington would be the precedent for race tracks like the Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. The winning vehicle was Johnny Mantz's 1950 Plymouth (owned by Hubert Westmoreland). Harold Brasington, a local businessman, was motivated to open Darlington Speedway for the introductory race after being impressed by the 1933 Indianapolis 500. Brasington's plan called for a true oval, but the racetrack's design had to be changed in order to satisfy Sherman Ramsey who didn't want his minnow pond to be disturbed.
More than 80 entrants showed up for the race. Brasington used a 2-week qualifying scheme similar to the one used at the Indianapolis 500. Brasington was also inspired by Indianapolis when he had the 75 car field aligned in 25 rows of three cars. These practices have been curtailed over the years as NASCAR adopted a more uniform set of guidelines with regard to the number of cars which could qualify for a race. The race was won by Johnny Mantz in a car owned by France.
Drivers who failed to qualify for the race were Dorothy Shull, Herb Thomas, Bill Bennett, Lewis Hawkins, Pap White, Louise Smith and Pat Sutton. The fastest lap time during qualifying was 43.689 seconds by Wally Campbell while the slowest lap time in qualifying was 49.006 seconds by Johnny Mantz.
Pee Wee Martin and Bob Smith would retire from professional stock car racing after the conclusion of this event. Byron Beatty, Walt Crawford, P.E. Godfrey, Bill Henson, Pete Keller, Jerry Kemp, Lee Morgan, Dick Soper and Jack Yardley made their only NASCAR start in this event. Weldon Adams, Roy Bentley, Jack Carr, Gene Comstock, Gene Darragh, John DuBoise, Carson Dyer, Joe Eubanks, Johnny Grubb, J.E. Hardie, Tex Keene, Bub King, Virgil Livengood, Hub McBride, Hershel McGriff, Bill Osborne, Barney Smith, Rollin Smith, Jesse James Taylor, Charles Tidwell, Murrace Walker, Bill Widenhouse and Shorty York would begin their NASCAR career at this race; sparking the first generation of true stock car drivers.
U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond was the official marshal for the 1950 Southern 500. He was known for his conservative policies in the Southern United States in those days. The top prize for the race was $10,510 ($104,620.29 when adjusted for inflation) while the lowest known prize amount for the race was $100 ($995.44 when adjusted for inflation) for 72nd place. Seventy-five cars competed in this era of relatively unregulated racing for a total of $25,325 in winnings ($252,094.09 when adjusted for inflation).
Other entries for manufacturers included Oldsmobile (defunct), Cadillac (active but not racing in NASCAR), Mercury (defunct), Ford (active), Buick (active but not racing in NASCAR), Pontiac (defunct), Nash (defunct), Lincoln (active but not racing in NASCAR), Studebaker (defunct), and Kaiser (defunct). Oddly enough, there was no entry for Chevrolet vehicles during that race.
The other top ten finishers included: Fireball Roberts, Red Byron, Bill Rexford, Chuck Mahoney, Lee Petty, Cotton Owens, Bill Blair, Hershel McGriff, and George Hartley. As of 2011, Hershel McGriff still competes in regional road courses races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Hershel McGriff might be the last living driver from this event; having attained the advanced age of 88 years old as of August 11, 2016.
Gober Sosebee led the first 4 laps, Curtis Turner, the polesitter, then led until lap 22, before eventually flipping on lap 275. After Turner lost the lead, Cotton Owens lead for 23 laps. After that, Mantz led to the finish. The total time of the race was six hours, thirty-eight minutes, and forty seconds (longer than a baseball or a football game of that era). The average speed was 75.250 miles per hour (121.103 km/h) while the pole position speed was 82.034 miles per hour (132.021 km/h). Two cautions were taken for thirteen laps and the winner won by more than nine laps. Attendance stood at 25,000 people; which completely filled the grandstands back then when seating opportunities were fewer. Four hundred laps were done on a paved oval track spanning 1.250 miles (2.012 km). Most of the known DNFs in the race were caused by crashes with the occasional spindle incident.
* Driver is known to have failed to finish the raceStart of race: Gober Sosebee officially started the race with the pole position
Lap 5: Curtis Turner took over the lead from Gober Sosebee
Lap 24: Roscoe Thompson overheated his vehicle, making him the last-place finisher
Lap 27: Cotton Owens took over the lead from Curtis Turner
Lap 50: Johnny Mantz took over the lead from Cotton Owens
Lap 52: Jack Carr's vehicle overheated while he was racing
Lap 176: Buck Baker had a terminal crash, forcing him to retire from the event
Lap 229: Tex Keene had a terminal crash, forcing him to retire from the event
Lap 320: Curtis Turner had a terminal crash after leading 22 laps, forcing him to retire from the event
Lap 331: Jimmy Florian had a problem with his vehicle's spindle, knocking him out of the race
Lap 332: Jimmy Thompson managed to overheat his vehicle's engine
Lap 344: Pee Wee Martin managed to overheat his vehicle while he was racing
Lap 345: Jack Smith had a terminal crash, forcing him to retire from the event
Finish: Cotton Owens was officially declared the winner of the event
^ Indicates the driver definitely finished the race
The presence of neither * nor ^ indicates that the driver's finishing status is not known.